The golden age

With Photokina a little over two weeks away, expect the rumors and leaks – both official and unofficial – to start flying fast and furious, followed closely behind by official announcements. I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore gear head – I’m not fanatical about technical specs, and frankly I have little more than a basic understanding of the meaning of all those numbers and charts some people enjoy studying. Nor am I a fanatical brand loyalist who throws objectivity out the window in trumpeting the virtues of my chosen brand. If you’ve spent any time at all reading this blog, you know that I have no chosen brand – I’ll use whatever gets the job done to my satisfaction. Yet I do enjoy seeing, talking about and sometimes testing new cameras and lenses.

What makes this an especially exciting time is that we seem to be in something of a golden age when it comes to cameras – Olympus OM-D E-M5, Sony NEX-7, Nikon D800 and D3200, Fuji X-Pro1, Canon EOS-1D X. Each of these cameras are excellent, and in some way groundbreaking. Their ranks seemed poised to grow in the coming months, with several more new and potentially exciting cameras on the way. One important thought to keep in mind, and something that is often ignored by many forum posters, is that different shooters have different requirements. What may be a must-have feature to you might be of no interest to another person.

Let’s take a look at a few of the interesting cameras on the way this autumn…

D600 – a full frame 24MP “entry level” camera. Based on the leaked specs, this appears to be a well-featured camera, and the 24MP FX sensor promises outstanding image quality, most likely even at higher ISOs. Think of it as a D7000 on steroids. The big question. Price and quality control. Some are saying the D600 could come in as low as $1500 U.S. If true, I believe that’s what folks call a “game changer.” Will it suffer from the same quality control problems that have plagued the D800, and to a lesser extent the D7000? For Nikon’s sake, I sincerely hope not. I do know this much – were it not for my experience with the D7000, and Nikon’s customer service, the D600 would be on my “must own” list. As of now, it’s on my wait and see list.

E-PM3 and E-PL5 PENs – two new PENs, both apparently using the same Sony sensor in the E-M5. The big question. Will either offer a built in viewfinder, or the new 5-axis stabilization system. The latter seems unlikely, because of size constraints. The question of a viewfinder is still up in the air. Personally, I’d settle for a refreshed version of the Olympus clip-on EVF. The new sensor is more than enough to make me happy.

GH3 – a new top-of-the-line camera from Panasonic, with a new sensor. Expect outstanding video performance, as always from the GH series. The big question. For most people interested in the GH3, the big question(s) will revolve around video capabilities – bit rates, codecs, etc. Personally, I’m most interested in the stills performance of the new sensor – not because I’m interested in the GH3, but because I’m curious as to whether or not Panasonic has made any great image quality strides that might trickle down to other Panasonic cameras that would be of interest to me… such as the eventual GX1 replacement, rumored to arrive after Photokina.

A99 and NEX-6 – the A99 is a full frame 24MP camera using Sony’s translucent mirror technology. As you would expect from Sony, based on the leaked specs the A99 appears to be a technological powerhouse. The big question. Will the impressive spec sheet add up to a compelling camera, and one that can break the Canon/Nikon pro market stranglehold? Sony’s cameras have lagged a bit behind the quality of their sensors in small but important ways. It’ll be interesting to see if Sony has upped their game in terms of build quality, menu responsiveness, JPEG quality, etc. The NEX-6 is essentially a mini NEX-7 with a lower quality EVF, and a 16MP sensor. It fills the gap between the new NEX-5R and the aforementioned NEX-7. The big question. Will Sony ever give the NEX series the quality lenses it deserves? Will a third party step up to fill in the lens lineup gaps?

X-E1 – A less expensive little brother to the X-Pro1, using the same 16MP X-Trans sensor as it’s big brother. The big question. Has Fuji sorted out the autofocus and color bleeding problems that took a bit of the shine off the otherwise excellent X-Pro1? If they have, the X-E1 could be a very interesting camera.

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